Owners Tips

Lesson Learned: Don’t Forget About Your Car's Humble Rubber Belt

When talking about vehicle maintenance, engine oil and air filters are the most commonly mentioned service items. Still, modern engines are fitted with various other components that also need a little attention from time to time, such as a humble rubber belt.

On the front of your engine is a pulley that’s directly attached to rotating parts inside of the engine. A rubber belt (aka the accessory belt, drive belt, or serpentine belt) transmits the rotating action of the engine’s pulley to additional pulleys, which drive other components like the power steering, air conditioner, alternator, and more.

This belt is one of many parts within your vehicle designed to be replaced on a regular basis. This means that a belt is replaced while it’s still in decent condition and before any possibility of failure, since a failed belt can stop your drive dead in its tracks.

On Reddit’s r/JustRolledIntoTheShop discussion forum, we’ve got a timely reminder of the importance of your engine’s accessory belts just as the summer travel season arrives. Thanks to user u/GandalfsWhiteStaff, we can see a badly worn drive belt in the very final stages of its life.

The missing teeth and dried out, badly weathered rubber are signs of a belt in bad shape – one that’s likely been sprayed with various products to try to quiet its annoying squealing, a common sign of belt failure.

Except no amount of spray-on snake oil is going to keep a belt in this condition, or any belt, for that matter, from failing outright with little notice in the near future, possibly on a road trip. With frayed threads hanging on for dear life, it’s a wonder it hadn’t failed already.

Thankfully, the belt was removed and replaced, averting an imminent crisis. Had this customer not been so lucky, failure of this belt could have led to an immediate loss of power steering, battery recharging, air conditioning, or a combination of the above. Collateral damage could also result if debris from the failed belt were caught up in some other part of the rapidly rotating engine accessory drive.

What does that mean for the driver? An expensive tow and repair are among the likely outcomes. Ditto a disruption of whatever travel plans were in play.

When was the last time you checked your belts, or had your vehicle checked over by a technician? Are your belts healthy and strong, or are your family travel plans at the mercy of a few frayed strands of dried-out rubber?

If in doubt, get your ride checked out. The cost and hassle of a pre-summer inspection are far less than that of ruining a long-weekend road trip.